Mark Richt enters his 13th season at the helm of the Georgia Bulldogs with nothing to prove other than to bring a national championship to Athens. After coming within 5 yards of playing for (and, likely, winning) the BcS trophy, Richt has a team with unanswered questions on defense and an offense that could surpass the success of 2012. With that, here are five questions as the Dawgs start fall camp next week:
1) Can the defense return to its Junkyard Dawg roots in 2013?
The Georgia defense suffered heavy losses to graduation and the NFL draft in all 3 layers of the defense. Todd Grantham has his work cut out for him entering fall camp to find the right mix of returning and incoming players to bring back the nastiness of his NFL-style 3-4 defense. Damian Swann enters the season as the player on the defense most likely to be an all-SEC performer at corner. Jordan Jenkins steps in for consensus two-year All-American, Jarvis Jones, and looks to continue the double-digit sack streak established at outside linebacker. While Tray Matthews appears to be the defensive newcomer of the year, I think the success of this defense depends on the ability of Chris Wilson to find the right combination of new faces on the defensive line. Finally, I think Amarlo Herrera will end up as the defensive team captain at the end of the year.
2) Will the offense be as explosive as everyone believes in 2013?
Aaron Murray returns as a 4-year starter with a stellar resume and the opportunity to rewrite the school and conference record books, but he came back for his final season to win a championship. He may have the best set of weapons at the skill positions of any team in the country with the best 1-2 combination at running back in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. He has a deep set of wide receivers led by Malcolm Mitchell and Michael Bennett and the conference’s best tight end tandem in Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome. The offensive line has the potential to be the best since 2002 with five returning starters and quality depth at every position. With all of the talent and experience across the board on offense, this group could shatter every single season offensive records including averaging over 40 points per game.
3) Can the special teams become a team strength in 2013?
Last season, special teams were a mixed bag with a kick-off return for a touchdown, blocked punts to change momentum, excellent kick-off coverage, and long field goals that came at the right time with missed and botched extra points, a back-breaking punt return for a touchdown, and poor decisions in the return game. Given the quality of the schedule, the Georgia special teams must return to a state of consistency befitting the kicking game tradition of Kevin and Drew Butler, Scott Woerner, and Boss Bailey. The special teams will be challenged right out of the gate with the likely suspension of Marshall Morgan for his poor decision this summer and a Clemson return game that will likely test our coverage units.
4) Is the schedule too daunting to expect a run to Atlanta and beyond?
Bulldog Nation will find out right out of the gate whether we should expect a third consecutive trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game and a likely trip to Pasadena to play for the crystal with a great opener at long-time rival Clemson, a conference and home opener with South Carolina, and a late September visit from LSU. If the Dawgs close September 4-0, I have no doubt that another division title will come to Athens. While the Clemson opener is sexy and appealing, the South Carolina game seven days later is the most important game on the schedule in my opinion because a fourth consecutive loss to the Gamecocks probably ends any hope of a national championship. Trips to Nashville and Knoxville and the Big 3 away from Athens make the schedule formidable. Another return to Atlanta after this schedule would be a great season.
5) Will the Dawgs be in mid-season form for the trip to Clemson?
The opener at Clemson will be a big challenge with an offense led by Georgia native, Tajh Boyd, and a team fueled by a crowd that hasn’t seen a Clemson victory over Georgia in 23 years (1990). This game may be the most anticipated in the rivalry since the 1982 debut of the lights in Sanford Stadium on Labor Day as the prior two national champions squared off in a defensive battle won by Georgia 13-6. This game may be a 7-point margin, but the score will likely go into the 30s on both sides of the scoreboard. The last few years, Georgia has started slowly due to challenges in the offensive line and defensive suspensions. The Georgia defense will need to be ready to play to control the Tiger offense, and the Georgia offense must be ready to score on every possession if the game gets into the anticipated track meet. If they don’t, this season could start poorly and may result in a week 2 hangover loss to South Carolina.
The defense finds its legs from day 1, and the young talent makes enough plays to allow the offense to grind teams down with its skill. Georgia ends September 4-0 and cruises to the the SEC Championship Game undefeated in a national semifinal against the undefeated winner of the Alabama-Texas A&M game. Georgia wins the SEC and handles either Nike U (Oregon) or Tattoo U (Ohio St.) in Pasadena to finish 14-0 and join the other 7 national champions from the SEC in the final year of the BcS with a win in the Rose Bowl similar to the 1942 national champions.
The defense and special teams have early season trouble especially with Clemson and South Carolina, and the team leaves September with 3 losses. Muschamp gets his first win in Jacksonville, and the Dawgs end up 3rd in the East with a late December game in Atlanta or Nashville against an ACC opponent.
Georgia splits the South Carolina games and the LSU-Florida games to end the regular season 10-2 and possibly not the East representative in Atlanta. The Dawgs return to the I-4 corridor and win a B1G bowl game in Orlando or Tampa to finish the season either 11-3 or 11-2.
That’s my thought. Sound off in the comments below.